Weird West

Weird West claims to be an immersive-sim, but the only thing immersive about the game is the story and worldbuilding. Everything else is janky and awful.

When I first started writing this article, I’d played 8 or so hours of Weird West. At this point, having written most of it, and just editing the writeup, I’ve played about 18. Normally I don’t write about games until I finish them, but in its current state and price point, I just can’t recommend Weird West. I would really like to though, because the story and world building is top notch. Now, it’s possible I’ll play a lot more Weird West, and change my mind. Based on various story mechanics, I would estimate I’ve played through 50-60% of the game’s main path story.

And it is a good story! I’m putting this entire paragraph here, because I cannot praise the writing and world building of this game enough to do it justice in this writeup. The Weird West setting feels on par with something like the Fallen London setting, from well… Fallen London, but also Sunless Sea.

Unfortunately, Weird West’s writing is shackled to some truly awful gameplay, gameplay which I am going to tear into in a moment.

Weird West describes itself as an immersive sim, a genre I’m not super familiar with, but includes games such as Prey and System Shock. I decided to go read the Wikipedia page for the genre, and it describes it as a genre “that emphasizes player choice. Its core, defining trait is the use of simulated systems that respond to a variety of player actions which, combined with a comparatively broad array of player abilities, allow the game to support varied and creative solutions to problems, as well as emergent gameplay beyond what has been explicitly designed by the developer.

I disagree heavily with Weird West calling itself an immersive sim. It does not meet this definition, because ‘Emergent Gameplay’ doesn’t feel present whatso-fucking-ever.

Almost all interactions with NPC’s are pre-scripted, and there’s no ability to for example, recruit anyone into your party. Even when you’re given optional side quests or routes, they show up in the quest tracker the same as everything else. They’re specifically present because the designer put them there.

Today, I woke up and chose violence. Because I can’t choose anything else.

Now it’s possible by emergent gameplay they mean “You can kill everyone and still go through the game!” This isn’t good enough in my book. It’s 2022. Killing a quest-vital NPC, and then finding their diary that contains the information you needed from them isn’t impressive. At best, I’d call it “robust.” You’ve made a game that handle the player being a psychopathic murderer well. I don’t know why I’d want to do that. Even if I wanted to, this brings me to the next point: the combat in Weird West is fucking awful.

Combat in Weird West is real time, and it’s primarily influenced by your abilities and your weapons. There are five weapon types, which from what I can tell are pistol, rifle, melee, shotgun, and one I haven’t encountered yet. There are also a variety of explosives. Your abilities require mana to use. The game doesn’t call it mana and it’s purple, but it’s mana.

Okay, so that’s enough about how combat works from a high level. Let’s talk about why it’s awful. While combat wants to be real time, the actual way the game controls is incredibly clunky on both mouse and keyboard, and controller. On mouse and keyboard, you use WASD to move, so you can only move in 8 directions, and you use your mouse to change camera direction. Except when you actually pull out your weapon to shoot, you can’t rotate the camera anymore, because now you can only control the direction your character is facing. So if you end up in a enclosed or complex space, the controls completely fall apart, and reorienting the camera to see the bear coming to maul you requires you to put your gun down, which you usually don’t want to do, since you’re trying to reload.

And it also just feels like shit. In addition, ability slots aren’t customizable, they’re hard bound to the weapon, so in order to use a base skill, you need to not have any weapons drawn, and holstering a weapon changes the menu the second you start the holster. I think I accidentally used the “slow down time” power at least a dozen times while trying to use the ability on my rifle, because I wanted to readjust the camera angle for a shot, which meant I HAD to holster my rifle.

In addition to this, Weird West has verticality. The game has a auto-aim feature for determining what you are aiming at, and locking on appropriately, except it doesn’t actually work well. There were several situations where it simply refused to let me aim at a sentry overlooking a clearing, and forced me to aim at a horse standing between us, simply because the line drawn between me and the target intersected the horse. To be clear: The horse was not between us on the horizontal plane. It was below us.

Artist Rendition

I ended up having to kill two horses before I was able to shoot sentry. Of course, it didn’t really matter that much, because the AI in Weird West is both janky and dumb as hell. Every enemy has apparently attended the “video game enemy school of guarding” which teaches that the only true way to stand guard is to wait around, and just because Tim walked away, and then you walked over and found him shot in the head, doesn’t mean there’s any reason to stay worried for more than 30 seconds. Now, to be fair, it’s not just the enemies that are stupid and buggy. I had a posse member who would cheerfully walk straight ahead, regardless of what was going on, whenever I entered a map instead of following me around. I’ve also seen other villagers just get stuck in doorways, repeatedly opening and closing the door.

Okay. So we’ve talk about why the game doesn’t feel like an emergent sim, since the only “emergent” portions of the game are related to combat, and the combat fucking sucks, because of the controls. Let’s go back to those controls for a moment, because they really suck. I covered combat earlier, but all the menus use that weird “large reticle to mouse over things” setup that Destiny seems to have popularized, and is somehow awful on both MKB and controller. Don’t make me “Hold down a key” to dismantle something, and tap the key to drop it.

Also, while we’re on the subject, here are some more minor gripes I have with the game. The menu to forge ingots/unforge ingots is shit, and unintuitive. The quest tracker only tracks 5 quests at a time, and doesn’t let you choose which five. Almost all random encounters are unavoidable combat, and the combat starts instantly, with no way to avoid them. The inventory is far too small for the amount of shit we’re expected to carry, and equipped items are still IN the inventory, meaning you can accidentally sell/breakdown equipped items, and have them eat an inventory slot. The game is also often buggy, with corpses spazzing out and launching themselves through walls, which is much less amusing when they have a key that’s the only way to open a jail cell with someone you’re trying to keep alive on the other side. Saves don’t go back far enough.

What does each of the options do? Why is it that disassembling ore makes you lose nuggets? Why is the UI set up so you can misclick immediately after clicking an option, and effectively just destroy resources?

So what does Weird West do well? Well, the story and writing are top notch, and are the only reason I’m still playing the game. While I suspect that I’m likely to be let down by the big reveal at the end, the smaller stories and individual side stories do feel meaningful, and I like the mechanics that allow characters you’ve saved (or otherwise helped) to show up to help you out.

The highest praise that I can give the writers is that I’m interested enough in it that I’m still planning to keep playing the damn game despite everything I’ve said above. After all, I already spent my $40, I plan to get what I can out of it.

I think a perfect summary of Weird West can be encapsulated in the following story. There are some very minor spoilers here, so if what you’ve read so far has convinced you that you want to play the game and go in cold, now would be a good time to stop.

The story of the first character you play as revolves around finding your kidnapped husband, ideally before he gets eaten by a flesh eating shapeshifter called a Siren, who hired said kidnappers.

At one point on this journey, the person I needed to shake down for information was a wealthy tobacco merchant/farmer, with a luxurious estate. After having the guards let me onto the estate, I talked with the merchant, and agreed to get him the deed to a farm whose owner wouldn’t sell. Having zero intention of getting and handing over the deed, I instead used my new found access to his property to case the joint, with the intention of doing a robbery later.

While walking around, one of the hired guns patrolling the facility asked me to deliver a letter for him. A love letter in fact, asking this other gunman to quit their jobs here, and run away together. I was more then happy to oblige, mostly out of the hope that if they did do this, there would be two less experienced marksmen present when I would be trying to break in several days later.

However, the second gunman couldn’t read, and so he asked me to meet him at a saloon in a town nearby to discuss it.

You see, it turns out that the nearby patrons are a wee bit homophobic, and by wee bit, I mean that the bar was about to devolve into a gunfight. (In retrospect, I don’t actually know how they knew the illiterate gunslinger was gay, it was never mentioned in any sense.)

I was then presented with 3 options on a menu.
1. Buy the homophobes a round to defuse the situation.
2. Challenge them to a fistfight.
3. Guns blazing.

As I didn’t have money to get everyone piss drunk, I instead opted for a fistfight, hoping that I would be able to just crack a few heads, and make an exit without committing a murder. Immediately after I did this, the game went into the aforementioned combat, and I realized two things.
1. I didn’t know how to actually equip fists.
2. Just because I intended to follow the spirit of fist a cuffs and knock these knuckleheads about didn’t mean that my posse did.

My companions instead pulled an Always Sunny, just started blasting, and several seconds later, the bar had turned into a gun fight.

Reload Save.

This time, instead of proceeding to the local Saloon, I went to the nearby General Store, pawned a bunch of shit, and then entered the Saloon. I was able to buy the assholes off to not start shit, and actually talk to the dude I was supposed to deliver this letter to. Except instead of asking me about the letter, he went into a dialogue tree as if he was still guarding the mansion, asking if I had the deed to be delivered.

Reload Save.

Sell shit. Buy liquor. Talk to gunman. This time, his dialogue options were related to the amorous letter, which I finally delivered, and read to him, as he wasn’t able to read. He was actually happy about the prospect, and decided to wait for his admirer/lover. They got a happy ending, and I had two less guards to worry on my breaking and entering.

I think this snippet does a good job of illustrating the experience of Weird West. It has incredibly strong writing and decently subtle worldbuilding, but its combat is a unfun jank fest, and it’s often buggy. The game claims to be an immersive sim, but once things escalate, there’s often no option other than violence to resolve things. That’s not a ” immersive sim,” that’s just a combat system with physics involved.

I’m going to play more Weird West. I find the story compelling, and I am curious about how it resolves. But that’s in spite of the game’s janky combat and bugs. Honestly, it’s fairly likely that at some point something will break badly enough, and I’ll just quit playing, and read the ending off a wiki somewhere. As such, I don’t currently recommend it.

If you still wanna play it, it’s $40 on all platforms. Console has it on PlayStation 4, and Xbox. For PC, it’s on Steam, Epic, and it looks like it will be on Gamepass in a month or two. For my money, I’d wait for that.